Welcome to the Dollhouse’s Heather Matarazzo on rejection, suicide and ayahuasca


The indie star talks about going from award wins to struggling for work and considering being a Lyft driver: All I want to do is be able to pay rent and create

When I look up Heather Matarazzo online, the top results remember her as the dorky or geeky girl from the cult 1995 indie comedy Welcome to the Dollhouse. The actor, who shot to fame soon after the film, and also as Anne Hathaways eccentric best friend in The Princess Diaries and its sequel, has often found herself reduced to those labels.

Matarazzo first began acting when she was seven, though it was her role in Todd Solondzs brutal debut that thrust her into the spotlight, winning her an Independent Spirit award and alerting Hollywood to her presence. Roles in high-profile films such as The Devils Advocate, 54, Scream 3 and the aforementioned Disney franchise soon followed but after 2007s Hostel: Part II, she vanished from mainstream cinema, only to reappear with a cameo role in the 2015 hit comedy Sisters.

I dont know if I took a step back from Hollywood, or Hollywood took a step back from me, the 34-year-old says during a rather late, and incredibly candid, Skype chat. Things reached an all-time low in 2009, a dark period that led the actor to consider suicide after months of unsuccessful auditions.

I was like, what kind of sick and twisted universe is this? The fact that Im still here is a miracle in itself, she says.

She cant pinpoint the moment when it became harder to get work, but she suspects it was the association with playing the dork that led to Hollywoods limited view of her. I had difficulties dealing with my own insecurities and identity when I was in my late teens, she says. It was strange because I never thought about the characters that I played when I was younger. But it wasnt until I became an adolescent that I started hearing words such as ugly or plain. I started to get a firm grasp on how other people saw me, and I took other peoples views of me as absolute truths.

Matarazzo in Welcome to the Dollhouse, 1995. Photograph: Pics/Everett/Rex/Shutterstock

2016 was a vital year for women in Hollywood who chose to speak out against the sexism they face in the industry. While equal pay is still an ongoing problem, female actors also suffer from a narrow set of roles, from the bitch to the mom and back again. Matarazzo found herself being forced into going to auditions that were ill-fitting, just to stay in the game.

I had the experience of being a good girl and doing the thing Im suppose to do, she says. I literally felt like Im fucking dying every time I went before the proverbial gods to audition for something that I know I wasnt right for. But I had to do it because it shows Im willing and open to everything, and I had bills to pay. It was frustrating because eventually I didnt get those roles anyway.

The industry still frowns upon women who reject typecasting. Another child star, Thora Birch, best known for her roles in Ghostworld and American Beauty, disappeared from the limelight and admitted, in an interview with the Guardian, it was partly because of her defiance to the same old roles the industry wanted to typecast her in.

A lot of people resist women who know their worth because theyre not playing the role theyve been assigned to, which is to say yes and say thank you, Matarazzo says. I think of [auditioning for these roles] as being a prostitute and being interviewed to see if youre going to be good enough to put out on the corner to get fucked. She reassures me she isnt being crass, just honest.

Although her tough stance hasnt completely banished her from the industry, it has pushed her out of the mainstream, which has led to considerable financial issues.

The last few years have been particularly hard for Matarazzo; shes even considered driving for the ride-share service Lyft. Most people think that I probably get paid a lot of money, she says. But I really dont and most working actors dont. I drive a beat-up fucking Prius and I just bought my first pair of new shoes in over two years. There is this untouchable and made-up image of actors, where they live this extravagant, beautiful life. But in reality, its just not the experience.

For the past few years, save for small roles in shows such as Greys Anatomy and Law & Order, the actress has been primarily involved in independent films such as Girl Flu and Stuck, both set for release next year. She is also running an online petition, to fund her creative projects and create a diverse and inclusive production company, on Patreon.com, an internet-based platform that helps artists raise money through the support of their fans. She explains at the moment she gets paid less than minimum wage.

Matarazzo with Anne Hathaway and Mandy Moore in The Princess Diaries, 2001. Photograph: Allstar/Walt Disney

An independent project runs for two to three weeks at most and we get paid $125 for the day, thats after working for 16-18 hours, she says. And Im thinking, all I want to be able to do is pay rent, create and bring about stories to the world that need to be told. Its not about the awards for me. Its about a single tweet or the email or a letter that says, That movie changed my life. And I would honestly just like some help.

She has previously supplemented her income through teaching and co-writing scripts, but says it still hasnt been enough to keep her afloat. Matarazzo, who was adopted after being placed in foster care, openly acknowledges her personal struggles with depression and PTSD that worsened after losing her birth father and adopted father in the same year. It led her to consider taking her own life.

It wasnt even a dramatic thing, she says. And thats the thing about suicidal thoughts. Its like, Maybe I should put gas in the car. Its very matter-of-fact.

On the recommendation of her therapist, she then travelled to Costa Rica to experiment with the popular spiritual hallucinogenic ayahuasca, which she claims saved her life. The plant-based drug has gained notable popularity with celebrities and millennials alike in the past few years. Comedian Chelsea Handler most recently endorsed her experience with it, in her Netflix documentary Chelsea Does.

Heather Matarazzo in Hostel: Part II, 2007. Photograph: Allstar/Lionsgate

I had come to the point where I was like, if this doesnt work, I dont know what I am going to do, Matarazzo says. Its not about going and getting high though. You literally are puking and shitting in a bucket. You go to hell and back. I was terrified.

However it eventually ended up being a transformative experience, one that gave her a spiritual awakening of sorts and clarity on the current state of things, however bleak.

Indeed, in our almost four-hour conversation that runs into the early morning, she attests a great amount of importance to things such as identity, determination and the power of self. And as things stand, shes going to need a lot of it.

The latest blow to that determination came in the form of director Todd Solondzs 2015 film Wiener-Dog. The film, which is a spin-off from Welcome to the Dollhouse, saw Greta Gerwig in the role of Dawn Wiener, originally played by Matarazzo.

Was she hurt for not even being approached for the film?

Of course, my ego was bruised, she says. I found out about it on Twitter. I felt sad and hurt. When she finally got an opportunity to ask Solondz about it, a few months later, he told her that because she said no to coming back to play the character years ago, it freed him to able to cast different actors in the same role.

But she isnt letting it or anything else deter her spirit. Not any more, anyway.

People grow and people change and thats part of life, she says. As for Dawn, she will always live on that bus to Disney World, singing the hummingbird song.

Read more: www.theguardian.com


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